Regardless of your topic, there is a basic template for a blog post. Like any story, a good post should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Nearly all good blog posts are variations on this theme, even those that are only a few sentences long. Even a single-paragraph post—perhaps especially a single-paragraph post—will still have three basic elements: a lead, a body, and a closing.
As you read a good blog post, you may not notice the lead or the closing, but you can feel them. The post seems coherent, or as my students would say, it “flows.” Coherence doesn’t happen by accident. When you set out to write a blog post, you will probably write the body of the post first, and then go back and write a good lead and a good closing.
Your first sentence should draw readers into the rest of the post. It leads the readers to the next sentence, and which leads them to the next, and the next. If the beginning of a blog post does not catch and hold a reader’s attention in the first 30 seconds or so, the reader will go elsewhere. Artful digressions in the lead are risky business. An effective lead is brief and compelling. You might introduce a story, ask a unique question, or merely state your purpose up-front.
When writing to inform others about some element of your hobby, the direct approach usually works best. Get right to the point. Tell your reader exactly what information, techniques, or projects you are going to convey.
I cannot tell you what to write in the body of your blog post. That is entirely up to you. Assuming, however, that you have something you would like to say, there are more and less effective ways of putting down your thoughts.
Despite what your fourth-grade teacher said, you needn’t write a formal outline of your post before you write it—unless an outline helps you get mentally organized. Nevertheless, your content should be logically organized. Write the body of your post in clear paragraphs. Ideally, paragraphs should be no longer than 10 full lines of text. They can be as short as a single sentence. Reading on a screen strains the eyes anyway, so presenting your readers with a full page of solid text discourages them from reading further. Preview your post before publishing it to be sure the paragraphs are suited to easy reading. Do not, however, break paragraphs arbitrarily. Use paragraph breaks at logical transition points, or in places where you would naturally insert a long pause while speaking.
You can further break up large blocks of text by using one-sentence paragraphs for emphasis. No, you shouldn’t do that in other types of formal writing, but you have my permission to use one-sentence paragraphs online. If your post is a long one, consider using sub-headings to break up your text and make it easier for readers to skim.
Blog posts vary enormously in length, some being merely 50 words long, and others running several thousand words. (Others will consist only of photographs. I will address use of images in another post.) Let your content guide your length. Your post should be long enough to convey your point, but no longer. If you are enthusiastic about your subject and clearly presenting original information or unique perspectives, your reader will follow you for a long way before getting bored.
Writing an effective conclusion is tricky. Look back at your favorite blogs and read only their final paragraphs. What patterns do you see? They do not trail off. They do not ramble. They never say, “well, that’s all for now…” They seldom summarize what they have just written. If they have to summarize it in a formal conclusion, they didn’t do a good job saying it the first time. Instead, they bring closure to the topic at hand.
There are several techniques for doing this:
1. Draw an emphatic conclusion, or make a keen observation.
As you reread the draft of your post, think about what you have really been trying to say all along. What’s the one point you have been trying to make? What have you realized about your topic as you have been writing about it? Stating that as plainly as you can is perhaps the simplest and most effective closing there is.
2. Use a surprising quotation.
Teachers often encourage students to open essays with an evocative quotation, but in blog posts, quotations work better in conclusions. Especially if your post is whimsical or lighthearted, you should consider finding a quotation that sums up the spirit of your post or leaves your reader with something to think about. If you are a habitual reader, you probably run across good material all the time. Keep a log of pithy quotations on your hard drive and consult it when drafting your blog posts. Sometimes another writer has already written the perfect closing to your post.
3. If you are writing a connected series of posts, announce the the topic of the next post.
Nothing is easier than saying, “In the next post, I will show you how to…” Such closings encourage readers to check back in on your blog, or even to subscribe to it. But please do not use cliches like “Tune in next time for….” That’s just tacky.
4. Ask a specific question.
Especially if your post is tentative or exploratory, consider soliciting the opinions of your readers. Your questions must be as specific as possible. “How do you…?” “When do you…?” “What would you do if…?” “How do you think I should…?” Those questions invite comments. Vague questions like “What do you think?” or “Any thoughts?” do not. Just be prepared to field your readers’ responses in the comments. If you do not deal well with online conflict, you should probably skip this technique.
Regardless of how you conclude your post, the important thing is to stop when you have finished saying what you have to say.